Writing a Minority Character
In the recent weeks, I’ve seen my post on women in literature get quite a few comments, for which I thank the readers involved. But this interest also sparked my thoughts in another direction and another group that has issues being represented in the media. What is this group? Minorities.
One of the things I always intended with Lightrider was to have a Japanese-American hero, partially due to my interest and admiration for the culture, my desire to not write another ‘great white’ hero, and lastly, because I wanted to give my audience an Asian lead that was not focused on his nationality, like Jackie Chan and Jet Li (though both men have tremendous talent, American audiences tend to value them in set roles that limit their undervalued dramatic ability). However, I also noticed another trend in media around me as I was writing. Many publications had begun to emphasize minorities in their work, but in ways that seemed forced and politically correct. Understand, I am all for widening the scope of the media and showing the full range of the world’s peoples. But I detest doing so in a way that is meant to show sensitivity and inclusion.
The first media I noticed this in was comics, specifically DC and Justice League. As a company with a history stretching back to the 30’s, DC has had many accusations of racial issues, such a Justice League founded by seven white men and a woman, or saddling characters with names like Black Lightning. And of course, the Superfriends and their allies, Apache Chief, Black Vulcan, El Dorado, and Samurai. Yeah, really, just Samurai. While some of this can be excluded as part of the time of publication, it does lock DC into problems as people have a traditional view of the JLA that is predominantly white. DC has often tried to correct this, with varying degrees of success. But one that struck me was the revelation that Green Lantern Kyle Raynor’s discovery that his absentee father was Hispanic. This of course, made Raynor Hispanic but seemed like a backtrack way to say that the JLA had ALWAYS been inclusive since Raynor joined. A more recent one comes from the New 52 reboot, which features Cyborg as a founding member of the League. While Cyborg is a well-respected character and a great example of a hero that happens to be a minority, it seems like another way to rewrite history to make the League seem more open and inclusive.
Ironically, Justice League as a show is a much better example of inclusion. When first aired, some fans complained about the replacing classic GL Hal Jordan with John Stewart and the inclusion of Hawkgirl, voiced by Cuban-American actress Maria Canals Barrera. Some argued that these characters/modifications were included to force diversity onto the team, and give it more of a United Nations feel. However, both characters became integral to the show with barely a whisper of their status, save a nod in an episode focusing on imaginary Silver Age heroes.
So in conclusion, how does a writer write minority characters? It’s really a two-sided answer. One, ask yourself if it really makes a difference. If being black or Asian or Hispanic is actually important and crucial to your character as a whole, then do it. Don’t do it for political correctness. Second, if that’s the case then simply don’t focus on it. Never write these characters to expressly show their diversity, unless it can benefit their character somehow. These are PEOPLE not STATISTICS, and deserve to be treated as such. And you are a WRITER, not a PANDERER. Your work must stand on it’s own, and that means working to create characters that are not entrapped by the color of their skin.